The Kodiak Island Borough School Board wrapped up a nine-month process of reviewing and amending the board communication policy at its meeting this week. The previous iteration of the bylaw required all communication directed to any school board member to go through the superintendent's office first. And that was whether it came from parents, a citizen or a district employee.
Some have linked the strict rule with stifling conversation with school board members and a decrease in morale among district employees. At Monday's meeting, Kate Wynne was one of two people who addressed that issue.
“So the one thing that seems fundamentally important, yet fundamentally missing, is open communication. And it's not unique to this school district or to any organization,” she said. “But it also seems that any mechanism that promotes civil discourse and real honest understanding with out the fear of punitive consequences has to help improve morale. It just has to.”
Duncan Fields, the newest school board member, ran on a platform of more open communication, and pushed for that in the bylaw change.
“The inappropriate kind of communication is for a board member to interfere with a staff's job, or try to direct staff, or influence staff in terms of decision making. The appropriate kind of communication that I have a responsibility as a board member to have with staff is 'what do you see as problems, what are your challenges, what budget issues do you have?' Those kinds of questions,” he said. “And I don't see that as appropriate to be channeled through the superintendent's office.”
Fields offered an amendment to the last sentence in the latest revision to say board members “should” channel questions or communication to staff through the superintendent's office, in place of “will channel.” It passed unanimously.
School Board President Katie Oliver said she talks to people about the district daily.
“And that's a good thing. That's what I signed up for when I ran for election. And I consider talking to people about the district as being fundamental to my service as a school board member,” she said. “If someone wants to have a private conversation with me as an individual, I will honor that. I'm limited in my ability then to find a resolution to a situation that is confidential by request, but I'm happy to listen.”
Citizens wanting to address the school board as a whole, should still sent that communication through the central office to be archived in compliance with the district's record retention policy.